8 Powerful own voices memoirs

Own Voices Memoirs

Feature image credit: @booksnbikram

Memoirs are my favorite genre.  What better way is there to really walk in the shoes of a person whose culture and life are different than yours? Many times, the issues faced are familiar and we can relate.  Sometimes they are so foreign, we can not even imagine living the character’s life.  But what if we learn to understand and have empathy for those whose life experience is not at all ours? That is the power of a memoir and especially #ownvoices memoirs.

#Ownvoices memoirs to read

Own Voices Memoirs - A Dream Too Big

A Dream Too Big by Caylin Louis Moore

At first glance Moore’s story of his journey from the streets of Compton to Oxford may sound like one we have heard before. He quickly pulls the reader into the real struggles of navigating the streets of Compton. Just walking to school took street strategy and skill and Moore went hungry more days than not. He dedicates himself to using his love of academics and talent for football as his path out of the hood. My heart was full of hope after reading this story of determination, faith, and resilience.


Own Voices Memoirs - The Dragons The Giant The Women

The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore

This is a memoir that will stay with the reader long after the last page. When she was 5, Wayetu’s mother left to go to America to seek education, leaving her, her sisters and father behind. As the Liberian Civil War hits, the family flees by foot to the village of Lai. Their journey is filled with danger and suspense around every corner. There are more struggles in store for Moore as their escape leads to building a life in Texas as a Black girl and immigrant. She struggled to fit into a world culturally different and full of prejudice and cruelty.  It is a story of family, love, and resilience.  It is both memorable and magical.


Own Voices Memoirs - The Beauty in Breaking

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

I found this to be a deep and meaningful memoir.  Michelle, an African American ER Physician, takes the reader on her journey through childhood growing up with an abusive father.  Just as she is graduating from medical school her marriage ends. Thus, begins her new life, in a new city at a new hospital. She takes the reader along with her on each of her cases. She discovers something new about her own healing as she heals each of her patients.  She also shares the “brokenness’ in the system, including racism and gender inequality.  In the end it is a narrative about the beauty in the breaking points of life.


Own Voices Memoirs - Born a Crime

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Trevor’s story about growing up in South Africa is sad, funny, and educational. Trevor and his mother lived in fear as it was a crime to be born to a black mother and white father. He tells story after story of challenges he faced as a child in school and his neighborhood of not fitting in with blacks, whites, or coloreds. His mother is smart, loving, and sometimes funny as she took her faith to the extreme.  Poverty, violence, and abuse are a common thread that runs throughout his childhood.  In the end you will know who Trever Noah is and what it was like to live in South Africa in the age of Apartheid. See more African diaspora literature picks.


Own Voices Memoirs - The Undocumented Americans

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

The author brilliantly combines her factual accounts of Latinx immigrants with intimate stories that connect the reader to real people. Villavicencio also gives an intimate look into her life as one of the 1st undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard. The accounts of how immigrants risk their mental, physical health, and even their lives working to clean up ground zero, were especially touching. This story shines a light on the hidden lives of immigrants and the constant fear and threat of deportation. It is an important look at real people with real stories.

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Own Voices Memoirs - The Mountains Sing

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Nguyen’s debut novel is a sweeping generational story.  The story is being told by the grandmother to her granddaughter Huong.  The Grandmother tells of going from being wealthy to fleeing her farm with her six kids and becoming a beggar on the streets. The story delves into the days of land reform and the rule of the communist government in Vietnam. It was both fascinating and devastating. Amid their family being torn apart and the horrific treatment they endured, there was much hope, strength, and wisdom.  


Own Voices Memoirs - The Sun Does Shine

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

Get ready for a book “hangover” after this one! To hear the story told by Anthony Ray Hinton is life changing. One cannot help but question a system that sentences a man to death with little to no legitimate evidence. The fact that the sentence stuck because Hinton was poor and black is cause for sadness and anger. Against all odds Hinton kept his faith and kept fighting while serving 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Hinton’s compassion and hope were a light for other prisoners on death row and he even started a book club for fellow inmates. His mother’s words of wisdom still stick with me, “I could get angry or I could have faith, it’s always a choice”


Own Voices Memoirs - Heavy

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Heavy is an appropriate title in more ways than one. The topic is heavy and not an easy read at times. Much of his story centers around his relationship with his mother. The contradictions of their relationship caused him great confusion. A mother that was brilliant, respected and that both loved him and hurt him physically and emotionally. A central theme in his life was the power and destruction of addiction in his life and those he loved. The addiction took many forms including food, weight loss and gambling. His writing is amazing, and he dispersed laugh out loud humor throughout. This is one not to be missed.

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Tonja Wheatley

I am a lifelong reader based out of Southern California. I’m mom to 3 kids, 2 dogs and a cat. I joined Bookstagram 3 years ago. I have a passion for reading and promoting BIPOC authors. I especially like giving visibility to debut authors. I’m very active with my IRL book club and my IG chat buddies. I am an avid yogi, thus my handle, booksnbikram. In my “day job” I am the V.P. of sales for a non-profit, The California Credit Union Association. I’m a pretty outgoing bookworm!

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